January 14, 2013 by indiecafes2013
Gaby’s Deli is a West End institution. It’s the very definition of unpretentious. A little Jewish diner that feels as though it ought to be in Manhattan, the 1960s or both.
I can’t tell you what the hot salt beef is like. I’m veggie. But the falafel, mixed deli salads and couscous are great. The house red is more than acceptable and the coffee’s not at all bad. It’s a haven of formica and old theatrical posters, a stone’s through from the madness of Leicester Square, where you can enjoy a cheap meal without feeling you must rush to pay and leave when you’ve eaten the last mouthful.
Nestled between three theatres – the Garrick, Wyndam’s and the Duke of York’s – and a stone’s throw from the English National Opera and Royal Ballet, for decades it has been a firm favourite with those who make their living in the performing arts, from A-List stars to the stage hands and technicians. Charlie Chaplin was a regular, according to Gaby.
“When I started my career as a street performer in Covent Garden, I used to come here on cold days to make one falafel last hours,” says Matt Ricardo, a juggler.
Matt, a freelance producer I met there one evening puts Gaby’s appeal and my motivation for starting this blog better than I can:
“Soho is gradually dying,” he said. “These places are very important to people who live and work in the area. They are often not well paid and they want something healthy and home made.”
You certainly get that at Gaby’s.
I once saw the waitress take a lady’s plate and glass away while she snoozed – a little tired and emotional I fancied – face down on the table late on a cold winter evening. Later when she woke up they were brought back.
Two years ago Gaby was facing eviction.
Gascoyne Holdings, the Marquess of Salisbury’s property company and landlord of Gaby’s, got planning permission for the site to be redeveloped and taken over by a restaurant chain. It wanted Gaby out by May 1 2012.
I can’t remember when I first noticed the petition taped to the counter, some time in 2011, I suppose. But as more and more of Gaby’s long-time regulars learned of it’s possible demise they rallied round and the Campaign to Save Gaby’s (@SaveGabys) was born.
Someone on every paper in Fleet Street, it seemed, loved Gaby’s enough to pen an article and get it past their news editor. Many of the cuttings adorn the walls of the diner alongside reviews. The thesps rallied round and before long Cabaret Felafel was performing on an improvised stage at the back of what is not exactly London’s most spacious eatery. Here’s a link to Roma Tearne’s blog about the performances.
So far the campaign has kept the Marquess at bay, but the lease has not been extended for long.
This is Sara Nathan, all-round rather amazing person who organised the campaign.
“We’ve nothing against chains like Strada and Pret A Manger on the high street, but we don’t want it to be just Strada and Pret A Manger.”
Those words struck a chord. She said something I’d felt, but not really realised consciously.
So now, whenever I’m out and about – usually in the West End – and I’m feeling peckish, in need of coffee, or just a sit down, I make an effort to walk past Starbucks, Nero and the other chains and seek out an independent cafe. I rarely have to go far and I’m rarely disappointed, because even when the food is nothing to write a blog about, there’s usually something else that is. More often than not it’s the feeling you only get when you are not being served by very little cogs in a very big (and possibly tax avoiding) corporate machine.